Hyperpigmentation is a condition where excess pigment is produced in the skin, resulting in a blotchy appearance. The condition ranges from simple freckling, to the more stubborn type known as Melasma. The type of hyperpigmentation you have depends on what caused it. In this article we will review the different types of hyperpigmentation, and then the most advanced treatment options available today for correcting it.
First, let’s start with a review of hyperpigmentation. Even if you are not a licensed skin care therapist, it’s important to understand this condition so that you can better understand how it needs to be treated. In simple terms, hyperpigmentation is an undesirable, over-production of melanin in the skin. Melanin production is a normal process that the body uses to protect skin from damage. You see this process in action when you develop a tan. However with hyperpigmentation, the melanin production is spotty and uneven, which can be aging to your appearance and just plain unattractive.
In the skin care industry, different terms are used for hyperpigmentation that results from specific causes. The following is a list of the commonly known types, along with a description of each:
Freckles: Yes, even freckles are a type of hyperpigmentation. They result from a pattern of melanin production that is genetic or inherited.
Melasma: This is hyperpigmentation from hormonal causes. The hormones can come from oral or injected birth control, pregnancy, or menopause. It appears in a typical pattern across the forehead and upper cheek bones. It also tends to be darker and more difficult to treat, usually because the patient is still being exposed to the source of hormones.
Age-Spots: This form is usually from environmental damage by UV rays. The reference to it’s being age-related is due to the fact that it appears after many years of exposure to the sun.
Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH): This is the result of trauma to the skin. It can be from a cut or abrasion, acne, or professional skin care treatments that are done improperly.
Other types of hyperpigmentation include skönhetsapparat actinic keratoses and various types of lesions, which are pre-cancerous conditions that should be monitored by a dermatologist. We will not be discussing these conditions in this article.
What you should know is that no matter what form of hyperpigmentation you are diagnosed with, the treatment for it will be the same. This is because all melanin production in the skin is a reaction to inflammation. To be more specific, melanin is produced in cells within the epidermis, called melanocytes. When that cell is exposed to anything that produces inflammation (UV rays, estrogen, drugs) it produces melanin. If the melanocyte is exposed to a source of inflammation over and over again, it may become permanently damaged and remain in a protective mode. This means the cell will always produce melanin and remain dark, even when the inflammation stops. What this also means is that treatment for such conditions will be ongoing… lasting indefinitely. This is particularly true of environmental damage that produces age-spots. So whether that inflammation comes from UV rays (sun), hormones or other medications, acne, or professional treatments like laser resurfacing or deep chemical peels, similar methods will be used to treat them all. Here is a review of the most popular options in the skin care industry for treating hyperpigmentation:
Topical skin lightening products: These are skin care products that contain ingredients known as tyrosinase inhibitors. Tyrosinase is an enzyme in the body that is necessary for production of melanin in the cell. These ingredients can be synthetic or chemically produced, or they can be taken from natural sources. This is the most common form of treatment used by skin care professionals, because it is the only one that specifically works on tyrosinase and how melanin is produced. It also happens to be the most affordable. Effectiveness depends entirely on the quality of the product, such as type of tyrosinase inhibitors, strength of ingredients, and rate of penetration. Creams must be able to penetrate to the basal layer of the epidermis where melanocytes live. Remember, since treatment will be ongoing to prevent hyperpigmentation from recurring, choose products that are safe for long-term use. Only natural tyrosinase inhibitors are safe and free of side-effects. The synthetic tyrosinase inhibitor known as hydroquinone is not recommended for use exceeding 3 months. If you have been using it, try to wean yourself off of it and onto natural tyrosinase inhibitors.
Chemical peeling: This treatment is performed by skin care professionals and should only be done in their facility. There are varying depths of this treatment, and careful evaluation of each patient should be done before a depth of treatment is decided upon. Because of a possible complication of stimulating more melanin production, careful evaluation should be done to determine depth of treatment and proper skin-prepping steps to take. This treatment is effective for hyperpigmentation, but should be an add-on to treatment with topical skin lightening products. By itself, peels will not prevent hyperpigmentation from recurring. Prices typically range from $150 to $1000, depending on depth of treatment and whether you see an aesthetician or doctor.